Word on the street is that it’s supposed to drop into the 20’s tonight and the rain we’ve been getting ALL FREAKING DAY will maybe turn to snow and we’ll end up with a light dusting greeting us in the morning. The sudden and dramatic shift to colder weather means that starting tomorrow, it will feel legitimately like the holiday season is upon us. It is time for me to start thinking about gift shopping, and contemplating what kind of appetizers and small plates I want to serve on Christmas Eve. But most importantly, it’s time for me to start watching my favorite non-holiday holiday movies.
December has no short supply of holiday movies to choose from. There’s some Christmas special or classic holiday tale on at least one channel nearly every evening, and somehow it always seems to be the channel that would otherwise have aired one of my shows. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good Christmas classic–It’s A Wonderful Life always gets Dan to do his Jimmy Stewart voice and who could be mad about that?–but we have a long-standing tradition in my family of watching Christmas movies that aren’t really Christmas movies. Full on Christmas tales–your Home Alones and Christmas Carols, for example–feel a bit like they’re forcing the holiday season down your throat, especially this early in December. I like to gradually build up to full-on season’s greetings. Plus, more traditional Christmas movies always have some lesson they’re trying to impart by the end, and I hate being taught lessons. If I want to learn something, I’ll learn it on my own time. I don’t need Christmas telling me that I should be nice to be people and that I should just be thankful for what I have: my family, friends, good health. Nonsense. Give me my presents.
It really all started when I was younger and my parents would always have us watch The Godfather on Christmas Eve. They liked it for the brief scenes of New York City at Christmastime. While other children were gathered with their families watching A Christmas Story, or Miracle on 34th Street, we snuggled up beside the Christmas tree and indulged our parents’ need for nostalgia by watching Sonny Corleone get gun downed by Barzini’s men (yes, technically this is a spoiler, but if you haven’t already seen The Godfather than you’re deserving of a fate close to Sonny’s). We always mixed in a few classic films with traditional holiday cheer–my parents aren’t monsters–and eventually transitioned to a few years where all of our Christmas Eve movies were of the holiday spirit variety, but I found that I missed the not-so-holiday holiday movies. There’s something nice in knowing that while everyone else is slogging their way through A Christmas Carol out of some bizarre sense of seasonal obligation, you’re actually enjoying the movie you’re watching, a movie with just enough of a touch of the holidays to keep you from feeling entirely divorced from the festivities, but not so overloaded with the Christmas spirit that it has you reaching for another glass of eggnog just to survive all the good tidings and cheer. (Sidenote: the word “nog” should never be a part of something that you willingly ingest.)
I’m not suggesting that you make The Godfather a part of your holiday movie viewing this year (actually I am suggesting that you do just that), but if you’re looking for a little something different to add to your list of holiday films, here are a few Christmas movies that have hardly anything to do with Christmas.
About A Boy
About A Boy is one of those rare films starring Hugh Grant that doesn’t automatically make you think, “man, how much better would this movie be if it wasn’t starring Hugh Grant?” Hugh Grant is the worst, except for here where his performance is more dialed down than I’ve ever seen him before and the character is purposefully stripped of the kind of charm that Hugh Grant is always inexplicably supposed to bring to a role. You get the added bonus of Toni Collette as a seriously weird, ultra-depressed mum of a nerdy, loner boy (played rather wonderfully by Nicholas Hoult). There are a few Christmas-centric scenes and an underlying story about a Christmas song, but the true gift of this movie is its amazing soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy.
While You Were Sleeping
This one is a little more Christmasy, given that Sandy Bullock (as she’s known by her friends) saves a man’s life on Christmas Day and then spends the holidays with his family pretending to be his fiancée and falling in with his brother. Heartwarming, obviously, but not specifically because it’s Christmas. This story of mistaken identity, manipulation, lies and, of course, love would be just as touching any time of year. Whatever, Sandra Bullock is delightful. I’ll watch her in anything and this movie in particular is fabulous.
This Michael Keaton era Batman flick starts with a Christmas tree lighting being ruined by creepy circus freak dudes on motorbikes and gets weirder from there. This is the Batman with Danny DeVito as Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer dressed head-to-toe in pleather as Catwoman. Merry Christmas.
This is another movie that takes place around Christmas, but could easily take place any other time of year because it’s just about two women swapping homes and magically finding the men of their dreams. I have no idea why I like this movie. It is a stupid movie. It’s at least an hour and a half longer than it needs to be. The two male romantic leads are played by Jack Black (blech!) and Jude Law (double blech!), and it features Cameron Diaz, who obviously sees herself as way more charming and enjoyable than she actually is. Kate Winslet is, as always, perfectly lovely, but she’s certainly not enough to save what should really be considered a rather boring and painfully saccharine film. And yet, I watch it every year. I’ve already watched it once this year. I even paid $2.99 to rent it from iTunes and stream it on my iPad while working out at the gym. What is wrong with me?! Can someone please save me from myself?
Honestly, I think I watch it just for the views of Kate Winslet’s character’s house. She has this wonderful little cottage in the English countryside and I just want so much for it to be my little house. It is so adorable and cozy, and just sitting here thinking about it makes me want to go back and watch this stupid movie all over again.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
What this movie lacks in adorable English hovels, it makes up for with lots of Colin Firth. Here again we have Hugh Grant in a role where I’m not immediately wishing we could just get rid of Hugh Grant. His smarmy charm is turned up to 11 in this one, and it works because he’s supposed to be douchetastic rather than likable. I love Renee Zellwegger in her role here and I honestly think that every Christmas movie should be required to feature this sweater:
Everything about this movie is so enjoyable and lighthearted and just downright fun. I like it, just as it is.
Come for the “Boo, you whore.” Stay for the Jingle Bell Rock.
Despite Ray’s (Collin Farrell) insistence that “Bruges is a shithole” and the danger of being caught in gun crossfire when shit really hits the fan for the two hitmen hiding out in the quiet Belgium city, this black comedy, filmed on location, seriously makes Bruges, Belgium look like the most idyllic place to spend your Christmas holiday. This has quickly become one of my favorite movies and odds are good that we’ll be watching it again this Christmas Eve.